In 2011 I rewarded the latest album of the Norwegians act White Willow with the highest score possible. At the time I wrote that Terminal Twilight (see review) belonged to one of the best albums of 2011and therefore I only could give this superb album the highest possible rating. The five stars were well-deserved if you can keep a listener focused for almost an hour. It made me dream away every time I listened to Terminal Twilight; I couldn't finish listening until the last notes faded away in my sound system. I ended my review with the famous last words; “Nowadays, only few albums possess that quality”. Now six years later the band comes with a follow up album. Future Hopes is their seventh studio album and the question occurs of course if they could score again, the highest score possible?
Of course expectations ran high when I received Future Hopes in my mailbox and I couldn't wait to play the entire new album. But before I go deeper into the music I'll have to tell you that the usual futuristic, colourful artwork of the legendary Roger Dean should not be left unmentioned. Only for this cover alone is the purchase of the physical output of the album to be preferred. With such great art work, you haveeven more desire to hear the music which is on the CD inside. Music which was made by Jacob Holm-Lupo (guitars, synthesizers, keyboards, backing vocals), Lars Fredrik Frøislie (synthesizers, keyboards), Ketil Vestrum Einarsen (wind controller, flute), Ellen Andrea Wang (bass), Mattias Olsson (drums, percussion, e-bow, sounds, noises) and Venke Knutson (lead vocals). They were assisted by Kjersti Løken (trumpet, track 1), Hedvig Mollestad (guitar, track 3 & 5), Ole Øvstedal (guitar, track 4) and David Krakauer (clarinet, track 6).
The album deals with the threatening development of the world. It is therefore no wonder that, despite the high melodic factor, one should not expect cheerful moments. White Willow sought on this album a separate path between melancholic prog, Nordic folk, hard rock and the music of light Gothic bands. Already on their the predecessor Terminal Twilight they massively put on analogue vintage sounds and offered more instrumental free space, which on Future Hopes is continued. Just the tasteful and not overloaded key sequences with nostalgic flair ensures a coherent atmosphere and melancholic coloured depth. With White Willow, even the long songs always focus on song development instead of instrumental overkills. It is the subtle nuances, the fragile, withdrawn moments, which make the following dynamics shine powerfully and majestically symphonic.
The sound of the seven songs is characterized by interesting synthesizer sounds, a dominant foreground mixed bass, all sorts of whimsical soundscapes, crazy wind blowing and the angelic voice of newcomer Venke Knutson, who is not unknown in Norway. The position of the female lead singer was re-cast, with the otherwise pop-oriented Knutson - who had already been involved in the project The Opium Cartel - keeping the high standard of her predecessors effortlessly. The fragile, gentle voice of Venke, ensures a dreamy impression. Furthermore keyboardist Lars Fredrik Frøislie, who is well-known for his work with Wobbler, has repeatedly provided symphonic-retro progressive rock sounds on this album together more or less with Jacob Holm-Lupo. But Future Hopes offers more than traditional retroprog. The title track Future Hopes is quite stirring, condensing all the musical characteristics of the group. The gentle folk prog ballad Silver & Gold then calms the game, with tact and elegance. In Dim days and A Scarred View are much longer than the other tracks, they offer the group and the listener much pleasure thanks to the syncopations and changes of rhythms that happily intervene. The drum set is particularly well developed. Where There Was Sea There Is Abyss offers a short pause in the middle of the album, without much interest.
The two bonus tracks are nice additions. The first one is the Scorpions-cover Animal Magnetism, which was already offered as a digital download in 2015. This version is very experimentally arranged. It needs perhaps a few listening passages. It sometimes sounds as if they are a space electronic rock group with a World Music beat. There are comparisons with Tangerine Dream, presumably because of the sequencer used. The second extra track is a short instrumental. Damnation Valley is a composition by Lars Fredrik Froislie, who also serves all instruments. The arpeggios on the piano, closes this album in a beautiful way.
Finally a very big praise goes to the production team of Future Hopes because the CD sounds just fantastic. The mastering was done by Bob Katz and Jacob Holm-Lupo himself did the fantastic production.
Conclusion: Future Hopes is a gem of its kind, especially for the many lovers of retro progressive rock. Great songs, embedded in exciting sound pictures. Embossed by an always tolerable melancholy. Future Hopes is sure to be top in the discography of the Norwegians. Absolutely recommendable and addiction guaranteed. Although it doesn't get the five stars treatment this time around, the album gets close to perfection and should be regarded as one of the few musical highlights of 2017! Highly recommended!
****+ Henri Strik (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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